I should be thrilled with my lot in life this morning. Instead, as of 10:30 am, I’m roiled in consternation, embarrassment, and even shame.
Where to begin? I’m a 50 year-old white man. Although my first home was in a trailer park in a depressed Upstate New York town, I have lived for the past 20 years in San Francisco’s tony Marina District–one of the more expensive real estate markets in the country. I’m arguably a product of elite schools, too: Duke University, CWRU Law School, Babson’s FW Olin Business School classes. I was an active and enthusiastic member of a 150 year-old fraternity in college. My wife is also a product of elite undergraduate and graduate schools. And we have chosen to send both of our sons to private schools here and on the east coast. Those schools are undoubtedly “elite,” as well.
I haven’t done the math, but I expect that my family sits firmly within the 1% of US household income earners. This is due, by the way, to the fact that my wife has continued her daily commutes to a stable downtown law practice, long after my own legal career took a sharp left-hand turn into entrepreneurial endeavors; ventures that make for interesting cocktail conversation, but that hardly made a dent in our family’s net worth. More recently, I’ve also taken some “time off” in which to write a book (my first), and the challenging process of securing an agent and publishing house will take even more time.
Still, slipping open the envelopes containing our 401(k) statements every quarter reveals a growing nest egg, as the stock market continues its bullish run. Our kids’ crooked teeth are straightening thanks to orthodontics. And to good dental insurance. Any illnesses with which we have struggled have been overcome thanks to our easy access to second and third medical opinions. And to good health insurance. The people who reside under my roof are happy and healthy, by any objectively reasonably measure.
And today is a day I have looked forward to for weeks. For months. For years, really, since this milestone has been on my horizon for some time.
Early this month, my wife and I scheduled a small get together to celebrate with friends my recent 50th birthday. That get together is tonight. I should be unabashedly and unreservedly excited about tonight. But now it feels like a selfish and narcissistic endeavor. I raise a glass to 50 years of good fortune with my friends tonight, while others continue to strain under the pernicious–and ongoing–effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. At the top of my to-do list this morning sits a need to throw together a proper Spotify party playlist for tonight. What does Dr. Ford’s to-do list look like this morning? I suspect just about every woman in the country right now couldn’t care less about digital music mixes. I suspect they feel gut-punched, disrespected, insignificant, and helpless. How could they not?
People who look like me are clearly part of the problem. Am I part of the solution?
The tears I shed while watching Obama’s first election night victory were, in retrospect, naive. My excitement a few years later at the seemingly-imminent prospect of our nation’s first female President was equally wide-eyed and unsophisticated. I did my best to place Trump’s victory in proper perspective in a blog post that made me feel a little bit better, but not for long. My building enthusiasm yesterday for the hope that logic, common sense, and the rule of law would prevail at these Senate Judiciary Committee hearings has now taken a nose-dive. I woke up this morning at 4 am sick to my stomach. A couple hours later, I sat helpless and speechless as my wife, tears in her eyes, sat up from our bed after watching the early reports on CNN, then trudged weary and angry off to work.
It appears we still live in a world run by people that look like me and that have backgrounds like mine. And mornings like this one serve as a reminder that this isn’t a good thing.
And so what about tonight? Maybe we should cancel the event. Celebrating things like a white guy’s 50th birthday seems insensitive at this moment in particular. Tone deaf. Plus, I feel drained and defeated and even a little bit hopeless due to the past few days. But I think it’s important to march on, to place one foot after the other, to celebrate simply being. To savor the day-to-day, the hour-to-hour, the moment-to-moment. The quotidian. And I’ve also got to continue to resist the temptation to be comfortable, to be complacent, to be numb, to be satisfied. To slip into a state of oblivion. The public spectacle in D.C. over the past couple days has, sadly, revealed how much further we have to go. In particular, it would appear that people like me–white men, products of elite schools and privilege, the “top 1%”–have a long way to go.
Thanks for reading.